"With an obvious decline in talent, the Wolverines have lost five or more games in five of the past six seasons after having done so only twice from 1968 to 2007."
-Todd Jones, The Dispatch
This article takes a look at the steady decline of Michigan football over the last 8 years, after the Wolverines' national title hopes were smashed at the hands of Ohio State in November of 2006. Jones argues that it was this game, the No.1 vs. No. 2 showdown that vaulted the Buckeyes to the national title game, that broke the back of the Michigan football program.
It's easier to trace that path than you might think. After falling in Columbus, Michigan went on to lose the Rose Bowl. They opened the following season with a famous upset loss to Appalachian State. The program might never have recovered from those three consecutive defeats. The 2007 season was Lloyd Carr's last, as the man who bedeviled John Cooper retired under programmatic pressure after going 9-4 (a record most UM fans would kill for at this point). The rest, as they say, is history. The Wolverines hired outsider Rich Rodriguez, who never found success in 3 seasons at the helm (unless you count the Josh Groban singalong). Brady Hoke, regarded as a true Michigan Man because of his experience as an assistant under two former UM coaches, initially looked to be the man who would turn this all around. He went 11-2 and won a bowl game in his first season, and collected Michigan's only victory in the rivalry since 2003. Things have been downhill ever since.
Hoke has lost more games than the previous year in each of his last 3 seasons. Hoke is essentially a "dead man walking," according to Jones, which is probably unsurprising -- the statistic quoted above about the number of five-loss seasons Michigan has endured is staggering. Saturday could very well be Brady Hoke's last game as the coach of the Wolverines.
"I got a text from Coach Tressel last night, thinking back to four years ago when I showed up here, it's just crazy how quick it goes. It's awesome, man. I love it here. I have no regrets."
-Ohio State senior TE Jeff Heuerman, via Cleveland.com
In this edition of his weekly "5 Reasons" column, Cleveland.com's Doug Lesmerises details the advantages that the Buckeyes have over the Wolverines heading into tomorrow. One of those reasons is the talented senior class that Ohio State has, a class who is looking to go out on a high note after beginning so flatly. Every fourth-year player on the team was recruited by Jim Tressel but never got to play for him, and instead began their college careers with an ignominious 6-7 start under intermin coach Luke Fickell. They're 34-3 since. Jeff Heuerman, one of those seniors who will take the field in Columbus for the last time on Saturday, believes that they have "maximized" their college experiences. A Big Ten championship and a playoff berth would more than cement their impressive legacy.
Among the other reasons Lesmerises cites in detailing why the Buckeyes will beat the Wolverines: there is a three-touchdown spread (the highest in 29 years), Doran Grant's emergence as a reliable No. 1 cornerback, Michigan QB Devin Gardner's penchant for turning the ball over, and the Buckeyes knowing that they will have to play lights-out to erase the sting of last year's escape victory as heavy favorites.
Gardner's turnovers might be the biggest factor in determining whether or not this one stays close. In Joey Bosa, the Buckeyes have a strip-sack waiting to happen, and in Doran Grant, they have a shutdown corner who can create interceptions and pass breakups at a high volume. If these guys do what they do best, it's hard to imagine Michigan making this one a contest. But if Gardner protects the ball and exploits weaknesses in the defense, as he did last season (over 400 yards passing, 5 total TDs, no turnovers), Michigan might make this one another down-to-the-wire nailbiter -- a prospect that no Buckeye fan would relish.
"Even a close TCU win might have been good for Ohio State. Now it seems highly unlikely Ohio State will jump the Horned Frogs this week, regardless of the final score."
-Bill Landis, Cleveland.com
On Thursday, TCU blew the doors off of Texas to the tune of 48-10. That's not good for Ohio State's playoff chances. The Horned Frogs are currently ranked no. 5, one spot ahead of the Buckeyes. And they have wins against three current top-25 teams to go with two wins over formerly-ranked opponents. Ohio State currently sits between two Big 12 teams, TCU and Baylor, who don't play a conference championship game.
There's certainly still hope for the Buckeyes to crack the inaugural playoff. With the exception of the Horned Frogs, the teams ranked ahead of Ohio State will have their fair share of challenges between rivalry week and the conference championship games. The biggest question regarding TCU is whether or not the committee would prefer a team with a number of quality wins but no conference championship game victory over a team with an extra win and a conference title earned in a championship game. The next two weeks will tell, and in the meantime, Buckeye fans need to root hard for as many upsets as possible in the most prized week of the football season.
"When I got diagnosed, I just shut down for a bit. I thought I was invincible, but I wasn't."
-Ohio State pitcher Zach Farmer
We've previously covered the trials and tribulations of standout freshman pitcher Zach Farmer as he battles leukemia. In this excellent piece, the Big Ten Network profiles Farmer and his journey since being diagnosed on April 29. Farmer talks about how he came to be diagnosed, which began with thinking he had mono, since he had no energy and was fatigued beyond belief after just 10 minutes of exercise. The diagnosis was much worse than that, but Farmer has had the support of his teammates and coaches to help him through the ordeal.
"It was a big morale booster and really helped me get through it," Farmer said of the time his team spent visiting him in the hospital and registering themselves with the Be The Match Foundation in the hopes that one of them might be able to donate bone marrow to him. According to BTN, he did eventually find a donor, though it was not one of his teammates.
Farmer and his doctors are optimistic about his trajectory since completing chemotherapy on August 13. There's no telling what his timetable might be for a return to the baseball field, but at this point it seems more like a "when" than an "if." His coach, Greg Beals, told BTN that "Zach's going to win this battle and we're all going to be stronger because of it."